Honorary Consul Shirley Mantyla in Sault Ste. Marie: Keeping the Finnish traditions alive
“It feels good to meet people and to help them,” says Shirley Mantyla, the Honorary Consul of Finland in Sault Ste. Marie. Mantyla became an Honorary Consul only last year, but she is no stranger to Finnish Canadians in Northern Ontario.
Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury: two cities in Northern Ontario famous for their Finnish population. Both of them are important to Shirley Mantyla, who started working as the Honorary Consul of Finland in Sault Ste. Marie in 2019.
Mantyla´s heritage is 100% Finnish. Her parents were married in Tampere, Finland before moving to Canada in 1956. Both Shirley and her older brother Allan were born in Sudbury. In the new country, their parents decided to give them English first names, although in many ways life in Ontario reflected the life in the old world. Nature was similar but more importantly, in the 60’s Finnish was spoken as the main language in many homes. Traditions were celebrated in many Finnish community halls and churches with abundance of activities for the young and the old. Ties to the rest of the family in Finland were close too, thanks to visits to see cousins, as well relatives coming over, letter writing and exchanging of family photographs.
In 1988 Shirley Mantyla and her husband Jerry Kroetsch moved from Toronto up north to Sault Ste. Marie. The first winter they joined the local ski club, aptly named Soo Finnish. Over the years Shirley wanted to maintain her Finnish heritage and started becoming more involved in the Finnish-Canadian community in the Sault. With her two children growing up Shirley started slowly getting involved in volunteer work, and is becoming a familiar face to Finns in the area. Mantyla was the vice chair and program lead for the Finnish Grand Festival in 2010, which hosted 1000 guests.
Mantyla has been an organizer and MC at the annual Finnish Independence Day festivities over the years. During Finland’s 100th anniversary, Shirley presented at city hall the contributions of the Finnish community in the Sault and received the Proclamation read by Mayor Provenzano pronouncing Dec. 06, 2017 as Finland Day in the city. Each Independence Day early morning, Shirley joins some hardy Finns at city hall to raise the Finnish flag that flies for all to see for the day.
“People my age seem to connect to their Finnish roots through the cultural events, like the Independence Day celebrations,” says the 50-something Mantyla. She also volunteers at the annual Juhannus festivities at OFRA, Ontario Finnish Resthome Association and sits on the board at OFRA. “That is another way to meet Finns my age, since so many of us have our parents in the Home,” chuckles Mantyla.
The Honorary Consul´s äiti (mother) still lives back in Sudbury now residing at Finlandia Village. With her mother once owning House of Finland store in Sudbury has provided Shirley’s dining table setting with Iittala glassware and many other Finnish housewares. Shirley’s home noticeably has the simplistic clean Scandinavian design including many hand woven table runners and the popular handwoven rag rugs.
As a day job, Mantyla works in IT for the Ontario provincial government. Now, during Covid-19, she and her husband, a retired forester, have spent a lot of time hiking and enjoying the many nearby lakes. Nature is very important part of their lives. “Social distancing comes rather naturally to a Finn,” says Mantyla.
Many Finns in the area have summer cottages by the Great Lakes - with saunas, of course. Mantyla and her friends enjoy the life in the beautiful scenery by spending time outdoors and cooking. She is famous for her Finnish lettu-pancakes at cottage sleepovers. Serving their friends coffee and pulla, “My Canadian friends want to learn to bake pulla, too, so I have to give lessons!”
The Honorary Consul is a dual citizen of Canada and Finland. She encourages others to seek Finnish citizenship too, if possible: “It is good to have an EU citizenship, just for all the opportunities it gives.” She thinks this could prove to be especially important for young people who get to enjoy all the educational opportunities in Finland and in the European Union.
Unlike many other young Canadians with Finnish heritage, Mantyla´s son and daughter have been interested in learning the first language of their grandparents. Now with software such as Duolingo adding Finnish lessons to their computer program, it’s more convenient to learn such a challenging language. “Learning languages really broadens your mind. The more you understand about other cultures, the better,” Shirley Mantyla believes. “After all, we are just one global family.”